Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, at the podium, talks at a Jan. 3 press conference about the city’s water outage, which lasted more than a week. She’s flanked by Asheville City Council members, from left to right, Sandra Kilgore, Sheneika Smith, and Antanette Mosley. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

Asheville’s water may be restored, but the spigot of information from city officials is still clogged.

This week, as the public clamored for details on the holiday outage that left as many as 38,500 customers without water and likely cost businesses millions of dollars in lost revenues, the city held private meetings with City Council members and did not make the staffers closest to the water outage, City Manager Debra Campbell and Water Department Director David Melton, available for interviews. 

City staff compiled a timeline of the water outages but did not respond to Asheville Watchdog’s repeated requests to provide it.

City Council members received their first detailed briefings Thursday in a series of “check-in” meetings with staff — meetings that appear to be specifically arranged to avoid being open to public scrutiny. “Check-ins” are held with no more than two Council members and the mayor per session — not enough to constitute a quorum, which under state law would then require a public meeting.

The agenda for Thursday’s three check-in sessions included a “timeline of events” of the water outage. Campbell and Melton were on hand to provide information and answer questions. 

“This isn’t a public meeting,” city spokeswoman Kim Miller told Asheville Watchdog. “No check-in meeting contains a quorum of Council Members, and we do not provide third party access to the meetings.”

City Attorney Brad Branham said “check-ins,” which have been going on for at least four years, are legal and give Council members an opportunity to ask questions, speak freely and “ensure that they are updated on any kind of critical matters going on.”

“There’s never a vote taken; there’s never an action decided,” Branham said. “They’re authorized to gather in small groups and talk.” 

“Keeping Public in the Dark”

Hugh Stevens, general counsel emeritus of the North Carolina Press Association, said the meetings appeared designed to circumvent the open meetings law.

“It’s certainly a shabby, and in my view, completely underhanded process that has the purpose of keeping the public in the dark and allowing these folks to have discussions among themselves outside of public view,” Stevens said. “What the meetings law says is that every official meeting of a public body shall be open to the public and any person is entitled to attend.”

Council members Kim Roney and Sage Turner told Asheville Watchdog that for a crisis as big as the water outage, the city needs to be completely open and transparent.

“I believe we need to be having this level of conversation in public,” Roney said. 

“The check-ins in general are helpful in many ways across other items,” Turner said. “The severity of this issue likely warranted an emergency meeting or a special meeting of Council …  with Council present, media present, and residents present, if they wanted.”

Timeline Not Forthcoming

The city began issuing public water conservation advisories on Dec. 26, after the Mills River water plant failed the morning of Christmas Eve. Manheimer said she was not alerted that the system was failing until Dec. 26.

But the city did not hold its first press conference until Dec. 28. Subsequent press conferences were held Dec. 30, Dec. 31, and Jan. 3. Water was not restored in all areas until Jan. 4. 

Asheville has a city manager form of government, meaning Campbell oversees nearly all hiring, operations, and budgets. But the city’s elected mayor became the de facto public information officer during the crisis. 

A lawyer by profession, Mayor Esther Manheimer made no criticism of Campbell in a Jan. 4 interview in City Hall, although she did allow that the city failed in some aspects of its response to the outage, including communications.

Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell speaks at the city’s Jan. 3 press conference on the water outage. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle.

“I felt like it was important to speak directly to the community,” Manheimer said when asked if Campbell should have been front and center. “I mean, I feel like the elected officials and probably the mayor, most of all, are the ones the community will hold accountable for something like this. And that’s who they expect to speak with them.”

Manheimer noted Campbell had been at the press conferences. The mayor also said the city has a detailed chronology of the series of events that cascaded into most of the south end of the city’s water service area being without water.

“Our water staff has been keeping, they’ve been documenting every decision they’re making – everything they’ve done since the moment that started,” Manheimer said after a Jan. 3 press conference.

Branham, the city attorney, said Friday that the city had two documents that could be considered timelines; one he called “pretty highly technical” that included abbreviated locations. “No one would understand it if they weren’t working in the city of Asheville’s Water Department,” he said.

The document, he said, “contains a lot of information that’s actually restricted from public access because it deals with public infrastructure.” 

“Somebody else was putting together a timeline for the purpose of communication, but it didn’t also include the water stuff,” he said. Branham said the two documents were being merged and would be made public Monday. 

Asked to provide the documentation the city had as of Friday, Branham said he did not “have it in hand” and that it resided with the city manager’s office. Campbell did not respond to email requests for the timelines over two days.

Hardships for Residents, Businesses

The full impact of the water outages has yet to be tallied. Council member Turner said the city heard from one South Asheville mother of three, who had the flu along with her children: “She said, ‘I have no water to bathe them to bring down temperatures,’ ” and her pediatrician’s office was closed due to lack of water.

Turner said apartment complexes lost heat because their heating systems ran on water. One 74-year-old woman told the city she had been without heat for three days and “all she had was a heating pad to keep her warm,” Turner said.

One business lost an estimated $50,000. 

Eric Scheffer, who owns and operates two Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian restaurants, said the water outage cost him over $50,000 in business. // Photo provided by Eric Scheffer.

Eric Scheffer, who owns and operates two Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian restaurants and Jettie Rae’s Oyster House, said Vinnie’s in south Asheville was closed for five days, and the north location lost one day, Dec. 23, when the water went brown. 

“The financial hit is, it’s quite extensive,” Scheffer said. “It’s well over $50,000.”

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is the busiest of the year, Scheffer said, noting that he worries more about his restaurant staff than himself. He has a “robust” loss-of-business insurance policy that will help but won’t cover lost income for servers and other workers.

“You know, it’s a tough time (to be closed). You’re hoping to rake in the cash,” Scheffer said. “That’s usually a time that servers that are smart are putting money away, and a lot of them now are in pretty serious trouble trying to make rent … These people live paycheck to paycheck, a lot of them.”

A server working that week could have made $1,500 to $1,800, Scheffer said.

An Asheville resident since 1995, Scheffer is one of the city’s citizens who feels infrastructure in general has been ignored while the city prioritizes other initiatives.

“There’s always been a lack of vision when it comes to the growth that was coming,” Scheffer said. “We knew we were building a town that was going to be based around tourism, hotels, restaurants. And there was very, very little done to put money in (infrastructure). It’s sad. It’s very, very sad.”

What happened?

Asheville Water Department Director David Melton addresses reporters at the Jan. 3 press conference. Melton has said the bitter freeze around Christmas was the main cause of the water crisis. He’s flanked by, from left to right, Mayor Esther Manheimer; Council Members Sandra Kilgore, Sheneika Smith and Antanette Mosley; and City Manager Debra Campbell. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

Melton and Manheimer have provided some details of the water system failure at press conferences, and in Manheimer’s case, in individual interviews. But many questions remain.

Everyone agrees on this: The Asheville area saw a wicked winter freeze in the days leading up to Christmas and right after, and that led to numerous water line breaks in the area, including “11 or 12” larger city lines, Melton has said.  

According to the National Weather Service, the Asheville Regional Airport, the city’s official weather station, saw average daily temperatures of 17 to 28 degrees below normal in the days preceding the outages:

  • Dec. 23: The low temperature was 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and the high was 41. 
  • Dec. 24: The low was 0, the high 24.
  • Dec. 25: The low was 12, the high 31.
  • Dec. 26: The low was 12, the high was 34.

The bone-chilling front receded by Dec. 27. The low that day was 24 and the high 45, just 5 degrees below normal.

Manheimer and Melton have described the freeze and the simultaneous demand on water service as “unprecedented.” That’s not the case.

John Bates, a meteorologist who retired in 2018 from the federal government’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, said he analyzed hourly weather data from Asheville Regional Airport.

“There have been about seven, eight cold waves of equal or colder temperatures in the last 50 years of record,” Bates said. “The coldest being around Jan. 21, 1985 when the low reached minus-16 Fahrenheit. Cold waves are not rare.”

Bates also pointed to a Federal Emergency Management Agency “cold wave index that appears to indicate that we are in a relatively high/moderate risk for cold waves,” Bates said. 

FEMA’s Cold Wave Risk map includes the Asheville area. From FEMA website

FEMA defines a cold wave as “a rapid fall in temperature within 24 hours and extreme low temperatures for an extended period.” These are dependent on the location. For instance, Florida is included in the map.

“I think the FEMA risk index is something the city should be paying attention to, more than my quick and dirty look,” Bates said. 

Three Sources of City Water

At the height of the freeze, the Asheville Water system was seeing unusually high demand, city officials said, putting out 28 million gallons a day, up from an average of 22 million gallons.

The city serves water customers from three sources: the North Fork Reservoir and treatment plant in the Black Mountain area, the Bee Tree Reservoir and plant near Swannanoa, and a water intake and treatment plant on the Mills River.

North Fork, with a capacity of 31 million gallons per day, is the workhorse, providing most of the water for the system, according to the city’s annual water quality report. Bee Tree’s capacity is 5 million gallons a day, and Mills River, 7 million.

After treatment, water travels through 1,702 miles of water lines and is stored in 35 reservoirs, according to the annual report. Each day, the system delivers water to over 156,000 people in Asheville, Buncombe County, and Henderson County.

Sacrificing the South? 

The Christmas outage stemmed from a combination of extremely high demand over the holiday, a severe freeze that caused city-owned and private lines to burst, and the freeze-up of the Mills River plant’s intake system, Manheimer and Melton have said.

Manheimer, who started attending emergency water meetings Dec. 27, said her first notification that something was wrong came in the afternoon of Dec. 26. With all three facilities in operation, the city was pumping out 28 million gallons a day over the holidays.

The city of Asheville completed a $38 million upgrade to the North Fork dam and spillway in 2021. The reservoir provides about 70 percent of the water for city customers. // City of Asheville web page.

Water operators suspected leaks were occurring. The Mills River plant went offline, came back on, then went off again, Manheimer said.

“At some point, the decision was made to tie off the North Fork (facility) from the south, because once Mills River came back online, if you didn’t tie it off, the whole system would have to go under a (boil water) advisory,” Manheimer said. “So, the decision to tie off the South was to basically preserve the rest of the city, so the rest of the city with the hospital system, everything, would not have to go under a boil water advisory. The thinking there, as I understand it, was, ‘OK, we’re going to experience a loss in the South.’ ”

The lingering Asheville water outage impacted thousands of customers and generated considerable media coverage, evident at the Jan. 3 press conference .// Watchdog photo by John Boyle

Manheimer said she doesn’t know exactly when the decision was made to “tie off” the south from the water coming from the North Fork. She said water officials believed the cutoff in water to southern customers would be temporary, though.

Alerts started going out Dec. 26 about water conservation because, Manheimer said, “they knew at that point they weren’t going to have enough pressure in the system to sustain continuous water coverage.”

Melton has said repeatedly that the age of the water system was not a factor in the breakdown.

“This was all weather-related,” he said at the city’s Dec. 30 late afternoon press conference.

Turner, the council member, said the city lost, “I think it was 29 large pipes that were over six inches. And that’s a large amount of water loss.”

She said pipes freezing below ground were out of the city’s control. “But within our control were items like making sure that the external equipment down at the Mills River had some kind of warmth around it. It’s not encased, I understand, there’s some kind of mechanism outside experiencing cold temperatures and allowing it to freeze.”

No problems at Nearby Water Plant

Manheimer acknowledged the city is getting a lot of criticism about its handling of the event, and not paying enough attention — or funding — to the city’s water system. But she pointed out the water department is self-funding through its billing and has allocated $10 million a year in recent years for infrastructure improvements.

“I’m guessing that you may be able to get 10 people in a room and have a disagreement about that. You know, 10 different opinions,” Manheimer said.

Asheville resident Mike Rains is one of those with strong opinions about the city’s handling of the crisis. A retired engineer who worked for Duke Energy at a nuclear power plant, Rains lives on a street in north Asheville that has had recurring water line breaks.

Before the current crisis, Rains had a sit-down with Melton, receiving an overview of the system, and he has observed water work-crews in action. In his career, he said, Duke Energy had to take a new approach to quality control and maintenance at its nuclear facility and he believes the city’s Water Department needs a similar reassessment. Because of the changes in elevation that result in greatly increased pressures, it is much more complex than “flatland” systems, he said.

Rains said he finds many analogies between the nuclear plant he worked in and the city’s complex system. He said he hopes to be appointed to a committee the Asheville City Council plans to create at its Jan. 10 meeting to review the water system failure and report back with a detailed analysis and recommendations. 

Citing previous breaks in city lines that resulted in outages, as well as mistakes made at the Mills River plant that resulted in a $1.6 million repair in 2021, Rains said the city has been late in adopting a “root-cause analysis” of its water woes.

In this event, Rains said, he suspects instrumentation froze up “because it wasn’t properly maintained.” Duke experienced similar freezes with instruments and water lines, he said.

While Rains conceded the cold likely was the main driver of the outage, he said he believes the Water Department needs a cultural overhaul, with an emphasis on better quality control and attention to detail to prevent spiraling mishaps.

“The reality is you have to bring your organization up to a level where [mishaps] don’t happen,” Rains said.

Rains noted that the City of Hendersonville’s water system did not fail during the cold snap. Its water intake and treatment plant is within a mile of Asheville’s Mills River facility.

City of Hendersonville spokesperson Allison Justus checked with the city’s utilities director, noting that the two systems are “vastly different regarding infrastructure, facilities, processes, and the geography and elevations served.”

The Hendersonville plant serves 31,000 connections across Henderson County, typically treating 6.8 to 7.2 million gallons of water a day for use by customers. On Christmas Eve, the plant treated 7.3 million gallons, and on Christmas Day 8.1 million.

Hendersonville had a line break along Asheville Highway (U.S. 25) affecting 80 customers but “no major issues over the holidays,” Justus said

“Before predicted weather events, treatment plant staff checks to make sure generators and heating units are functioning properly,” Justus said. “Some precautions to prevent freezing are built into the plant such as above-ground piping being wrapped and having heat tape.”

Communicate ‘Early and Often’

Asheville City Council member Maggie Ullman said the city needs more answers about how its three treatment plants “work together and how that works for distributing water.”

“We have dealt with situations multiple times in the past where Mills River was offline and North Fork and Bee Tree were able to handle producing and distributing water to the whole system,” Ullman said. “We should be prepared to serve substantial increases in demand.”

Ullman said the city needs to improve its communication with the public when outages occur.

“In times of emergency, the golden rule is early and often,” she said. “I think that folks in the face of not having water wanted to hear updates more frequently.”


Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and surrounding communities. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Email skestin@avlwatchdog.org. John Boyle has been covering western North Carolina since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at jboyle@avlwatchdog.org

Join the Conversation

47 Comments

  1. Excellent article! I love that Mr. Rains suggests that the equipment was not maintained properly. I suspect that also…

  2. Hope Eric Sheffer sues the city. and wins.

    Chaos is the most effective tool that AVL officials utilize in lieu of solutions.

  3. There is no other conclusion than “They must have had no policy / no procedures for cold weather” That is irresponsible. The city wants another committee — to look into this. Whoever failed to be ready for cold weather- – should not be working here. A committee (as proposed by the mayor ) is not at all needed to tell skilled engineers and managers how to have Policy and Procedures for cold weather– to be ready for cold weather– and take responsble measures. The city is fully responsible – and should never have deflected their responsibility to our citizens– by saying it was cold. We have not been served and the city needs to address this failure. (From a Civil Engineer)

  4. First comment, please put Mr Rains on that committee.
    Second question, how does the city know it was increased usage rather than burst pipes? Having not too long ago received an enormous water bill due to a burst pipe that wasn’t identified as such until I asked them to check, I do wonder how they came to that conclusion. Doesn’t seem like the season for filling up swimming pools.
    Next, the comment by Branham that they have documents not being released to the public because either we couldn’t understand them or they otherwise can’t be made public (security?) is at minimum disingenuous. Not a way to instill confidence that the people at the city council level know what’s going on.
    Back to no. 1 , please put Mr. Rains on this committee.

    1. I suspect that the increased water usage obviously had nothing to do with swimming pools but everything to do with older heating systems that utilize additional water to create steam. Lower temperatures mean more heat needed, hence more water. The Mills River facility should never have been offline and should never have been allowed to freeze. We knew the cold was coming. We should have had all systems up and running and cold protected.

  5. When our neighborhood association wanted to talk to the Council about the zoning variances requested for the development on Charlotte St., and the check-in meetings, and the access developers seemed to have over residents, etc., etc., we were called NIMBYs and told to stop being such over-privileged complainers. When we wanted to discuss the changes on Merrimon Avenue that were pretty much foisted on the corridor as a done deal, we were called NIMBYs and told to stop being such over-privileged complainers. So I guess the people who question the city’s comms and continued broken processes should just be told stop being such over-privileged complainers, right?

  6. The big question I have has to do with preparedness. We knew well in advance that the temperatures would be extremely low for several days. So why wasn’t the Mills River plant better prepared? The word complacent comes to mind. At Mission (before Paulus and HCA), we would hold inter-departmental emergency drills. This involved considering worst case scenarios. Since the water system is a 24/7 operation one would think there would be similar planning exercises. Clearly the city manager didn’t think this was important. The city’s lack of transparency is a slap in the face to South Asheville residents. I am hoping the AVL Watchdog can get the facts.

  7. Excellent article and first-class reporting. Very reader friendly.
    Watchdog is a critical “partner” to help Asheville become an even better community by explaining “how government works, or doesn’t, and how to make changes to improve the quality of life in the community.

    Managing the population growth and its externalities and consequences, not to mention all the “visitors,” is extremely challenging. However, the key ingredients, human and financial resources, already exist, but clearly must improve/increase to meet the needs of this dynamic geographic area.

  8. What a well organized, informative and detailed story accounting for the previously labeled “debacle” that over 38,000 people suffered through.

    No limit on copy amount and a great opening paragraph (trickle, clogging, etc.).

    Our Asheville politicians are no better than any other politician as they circumvent the rules, hide behind doors and had the ability to actually wash dishes, take showers and even “wash their car in freezing temps” as we were requested to NOT do so.

  9. The TDA money that was spent on ads could have funded a lot more infrastructure. The percentage has changed, but it’s still not enough. If the city is going to continue to be dependent on tourism, the infrastructure needs to improve. If the economy is going to diversify, the infrastructure needs to improve.

  10. Thank you for sticking with this story! I would like to understand how it is that the City of Asheville is responsible for water in the entire county. I would think there would be a county entity. In addition to the failure of communication, I would also want to know why there was no emergency response in place to set up water distribution points within 24 hours.

    1. Regarding handling this debacle, I was astounded at the lack of emergency response during this event — where was the plan to provide drinking water and water for sanitary health needs in the event of such an emergency? NOWHERE!

      At least Hearts with Hands showed up but they were all the way in Black Mountain!

  11. After a total system failure worsened by a failure to communicate, the secrecy of these so-called “check-in” meetings is another middle finger in the public’s face. I suspect the Republican General Assembly, which has long had it in for Asheville, will take this opportunity to try to divest the city of the water system. I would need persuading that this should not happen.

  12. AVL Council member, Maggie Ullman, raises an interesting question re: how the three treatment plants work together.
    Most people don’t realize that the N. Fork and Bee Tree treatment plants could distribute and produce water for the “whole system.” I assumed this was not possible in our w/ Mills River down.

  13. For years, savvy caring residents and activists have pushed back against large car-centric housing developments that would burden infrastructure, increase traffic by massive amounts, pollute the river, destroy forests, and/or bring other societal burdens to established neighborhoods. We have asked specific questions of our elected officials and out-of-state developers only to met by smug dismissive shrugs. We are extremely fortunate that this water debacle did not coincide with any or all of the following: a blizzard, power outages, civil unrest, or the next pandemic, etc…The supposedly woke need to wake up.

  14. As a wholesale nursery supplier for the last 13 years, I have spent a lot of time paying attention to water and the weather. I can remember at least 2 times in this period where we had colder temperatures and temps below freezing for a longer period. I’m sure there were water line breaks in these periods, but there wasn’t the cascade of events that led to a mass shutdown. I believe This can only point to how the system was being run and the attention to detail of the people in charge. And now they won’t talk. Hmmmm?

  15. It’s great having a talented news organization looking into stuff like this. All of us need to keep up the donations to Asheville Watchdog!

    1. I fully concur so I dropped my AC-T subscription that I’ve read most of my reading life and “subscribe” monthly to The Watchdog. Gotta support John now and hopefully others in the future who will give us our local news.

  16. Praise to AVL Watchdog. Clearest reporting we have had since the treatment plant went down Christmas Eve. At issue is that the south end was “tied off” to prevent contamination of the entire system. With the Mills River plant down, major line breaks and everyone scrambling to get water, the south area was drained. Once down, it took many days to get these drained areas back to full pressure. Upgrade of preventative action and improvement of process and procedure is essential. Again, thanks for the real story.

  17. I’d love to have the City Attorney address the legitimacy of excuses initially given for not producing outage maps to help people better understand which areas were affected and what was being asked and expected of them. I heard that city representatives claimed it was either a) a customer privacy issue or b) a Federal Homeland Security issue.

    Excuse (a) is ridiculous. Publicly accessible property databases indicate whether properties are served by municipal water and sewer. This not a privacy issue.

    Excuse (b) is also dubious. No outage map is going to give putative terrorists information about how to disrupt our water services that they couldn’t figure out in another way. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to come up with three ways just by thinking about it for a second—this is not rocket surgery.

    Furthermore: even if there *were* impediments in laws, who exactly could be expected to sue the City for breaching in them in the context of a major infrastructure crisis? The Federal government? A private homeowner? I don’t think so. I also think neither suit would get the time of day in front of a judge during a declared State of Emergency. The immediate public health and safety would surely take precedence.

    Frankly, considering the many points of failure during this debacle, the City is simply lucky that no one (that we know of) DIED. *That* would be something for which they could and should be held legally liable.

    These problems were foreseeable (the cold front was tracked and predictable a week out) and largely preventable. That there were not better emergency response systems in place was, to put it plainly, negligent.

    1. Nina, you’re right. The City is incredibly lucky that there weren’t power outages and/or a deep snow and/or a large apartment fire that couldn’t be put out…really begs the question about the dubious responses that citizens repeatedly receive from elected officials, traffic engineers and fire chiefs when we have questions about potential developments like the Bluffs (which would place a mountain village at the end of a narrow residential street and would tie Woodfin residents into Asheville water, further burdening Asheville taxpayers). No idea how the fire safety would work for that area in case of an outage and the fact that there’s no road from Woodfin to reach that parcel next to Richmond Hill Park. Terrifying…..

  18. “she pointed out the water department is self-funding through its billing and has allocated $10 million a year in recent years for infrastructure improvements.” So who oversees where the improvements will be and is there an accounting of this $10 million funding?

  19. Great reporting on this. Mills River plant went down so then due to leaks they valves off the south part of the system.
    The western section later went dry so I assume due to leaks they shut off the west part of the system or is it supplied from the south?
    Central, northern & east Asheville stayed on with water.
    Duke power was load shedding did that play a part in large areas where pipes burst due to lack of power?

  20. Watchdog lives up to it’s name. To go off subject a bit – MLB 30M no. Water infrastructure yes. A bond issue I imagine all would support.

  21. More journalistic proof that Asheville Watchdog deserves monetary support from those of us who read what they print. I’m upping my contribution. You?

  22. Not that it is clearly stated but my understanding is that the south end of the water service system was intentionally cut off to save everyone else the inconvenience of boiling their water when the Mills River plant came back on line. Apparently those involved in the decision to shut down and drain the south end(the west must have accidently drained out with the south end probably because someone forgot? to close a valve?) didn’t realize the complexity and time needed to refill a drained system. This is pretty shocking. And no emergency notification or action system has ever been established.

  23. Ah, so many interconnected complexities and challenges in this little town that can’t figure out what it wants to be. Here’s one from your great reporting: the restaurant owner suggests servers would earn up to $1800/week when discussing lost wages. And yet all we hear in this town is how little servers make and how much we need affordable housing to house them and how we must give corporate welfare to developers who will do us the great public service of wiping out our forests and increasing traffic to build their monstrosities which, you got it, burden our crumbling infrastructure…meanwhile the TDA continues to whore us out to the world.

    1. Bonnie’s is one of S. Asheville’s higher end restaurants, serving dinner only. If a server is able to turn their tables on a busy holiday season night or work a large party with a required 18-20% tip, then such a take home for a good server would not be unusual. Keep in mind the same doesn’t happen for your typical Waffle House server. I would like to think that Vinnie’s owner would share some of his insurance money with his servers who help keep his parking lot full. Seems only fair to me.

  24. Asheville’s ongoing and determined lack of transparency needs to end. The only way to change is to clean out the rats. There’s no point in getting rid of just one rat.

  25. Excellent article. Thanks for addressing the laws around public meetings. Their multiple “check-in meetings” with staff on this issue seem incredibly inefficient to me — covering the same information multiple times and it doesn’t allow for all of the council members to hear the questions raised by other council members. An enormous waste of staff time as well!

    Having worked in larger organizations for over 30 years as an executive manager, one question I would raise is this — how many of the critical decision making senior staff were at work on the crucial first two to three days of this crisis when the water pressure problems first started showing up and decisions needed to be made? In the organizations I worked in, the senior folks mostly took days off around Christmas (many leaving town) leaving more junior managers in charge. And junior managers may be reluctant to make the tough calls without checking with the boss and may be loathe to disturb the boss at the holidays until it was clear it was necessary. So I can’t help but wonder if this was a factor in the delay in action and in communication.

    1. I hear what you’re saying, but more senior people must be stronger leaders in both the public and private sector. Everyone knew days in advance about the looming freeze. True leaders cancel plans and step up to be available when needed.

  26. First, a grateful bow to Kestin and Boyle for providing the information we so desperately needed from the city but never got.

    Second, a bow to the readership: this is the smartest, most civil comments section I’ve seen in ages—even the Washington Post’s comments section has descended into namecalling drivel.

    Next, why is the city doing all it can to avoid taking responsibility for the decisions and actions that led to the outage? Given the outrage at their lack of transparency, the fact that they continue to stonewall on a timeline or names of those who made the decisions seems ominous—who are they protecting, and why?

    City admins treat us as a force to be resisted and kept in the dark as much as they can get away with. Why do they treat us not as the community they serve but hostile parties to be given only the barest minimum of information, and then couched in the passive voice (“decisions were made”)?

    The private meetings with city council members, the refusal to allow residents and reporters to participate in these conversations, must somehow benefit them, but it has no benefit to us.

    When all this started I was disgusted by the city’s silence. As it went on I was disappointed by the continuing attitude of defensiveness, deflection, and arrogance. Their management of the aftermath has been consistent with all that came before, and we are not getting any meaningful signals that they’re making the necessary changes to prevent this disgraceful mess happening again. How could they?

    They’ve done a great job. Just ask them.

    Is the city manager an elected office? I’m so sorry this happened just after an election. The prospect of another four years with this sorry lot is grim, and we have no reason to think they would handle a similar crisis any better than they did this one because they keep telling us it was unavoidable. It wasn’t though, as so many commenters have noted.

    If you can’t learn from your mistakes, you don’t belong in public office. We deserve better, and I hope we’ll have better choices in the next election.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *